Despite Fiery Reports, Discount Buses Are Relatively Safe
Fewer people die in bus accidents than car accidents each year
Discount intercity buses will take you to from one city to another for as little as $1. But given the recent headlines about these buses crashing and catching fire, should you ride one or let your child ride one, no matter how low the price?
One popular company’s bus recently broke down on the way from Chicago to Milwaukee, caught fire and eventually exploded (no one was hurt). Last year, a bus traveling from New York City to Boston exploded on the Massachusetts Turnpike. And in 2011, a speeding bus overturned on I-95 just outside of New York City, killing 14 and injuring 19.
But are these buses really that dangerous, or do the headlines give them a bad rap? Is riding one more dangerous than riding in a car? Several studies have attempted to sort out those questions.
According to a 2011 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study, in 2009, about 241 million people rode on charter and tour buses. In that year, the bus occupant fatality rate was 45 deaths per 100,000 accidents — much lower than the 251 deaths per 100,000 accidents for passenger cars, the NTSB reports. In other words, fewer people are killed in bus accidents than in car accidents each year.
But the picture isn’t all rosy. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute looked at bus crash data over a period of six years and found that 63,000 buses of all kinds are involved in an accident each year. About 14,000 of these accidents result in injuries, and 325 result in a death.
Here’s where it doesn’t look great
for curbside buses: Intercity buses are 1.9 more likely than other kinds of buses to become involved in an
accident, and charter operations have “significantly higher odds of driver
error,” according to University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
Which may be why, in 2012, federal officials shut down 26 bus operators for evading safety regulations. Senator Charles E. Schumer said three “unscrupulous” networks of bus operators ignored federal rules and when they were caught, changed the company name and continued operating. More recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said it is considering new safety regulations for intercity bus companies. Most intercity buses are required to undergo safety fitness assessments only once every three years. The FMCSA is looking to put these curbside bus operators through annual safety fitness assessments.
Adding to the pile of data, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Safety Research concludes it’s mostly a draw between cars and buses as far as which is safer goes. “While bus accidents comprise a relatively small share of the total accidents (0.6%) in the United States, the number of bus accidents per million passenger miles (3.04) is comparable to the number of car accidents per million driven miles (3.21).”
The bottom line? It’s a little blurry. But one thing is certain: Curbside intercity buses may still have something to prove to consumers about safety.
Related: When Stretch Limos Turn Deadly
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